Japan Nuclear Accident
Ended - Situation
Under Control
By Robert Whymant in Tokyo
The Times - London
Catastrophe has been averted after Japan's worstever nuclear accident was controlled, the Government said yesterday, but a spokesman said it was a "shameful" incident that should never have happened in a modern nation.
At least 55 people were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation in Thursday's accident at a uranium processing plant in Tokaimura, 90 miles northeast of Tokyo. Two remained in serious condition.
Experts said that a risky clean-up operation overnight had halted the nuclear fission reaction that had boosted radiation levels near the plant to 4,000 times normal levels.
"We have determined that the critical situation is over for now," Kazuo Saito, head of Japan's Nuclear Safety Commission, said.
The Government lifted an order for thousands living within a six-mile radius to stay indoors. Officials said there was no danger that radiation would spread.
An official of the Science and Technology Agency said that while the accident was the most serious ever in Japan, it should not be compared with Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. Nevertheless, scientists said it would take time to assess the long-term effects.
In the short term, locals were advised to avoid water from wells and told that local vegetables should not be shipped to market.
With many questions still unanswered, the Government faced an outcry over nuclear safety. The chief spokesman, Hiromu Nonaka, admitted that its initial response was slow. "As a modern nation it is shameful that this kind of accident occurred," he said.
The Foreign Ministry said that Japan had asked several foreign countries, including Britain, for assistance to deal with the after-effects of the mishap.
The company that operates the uranium processing plant, JCO Co, admitted that the accident was caused by workers cutting corners.
Disaster was averted by 18 technicians who worked through the night to drain coolant water that had helped to feed the chain reaction. They took turns working in pairs, staying inside the plant for only a few minutes at a time. Officials conceded the operation was extremely risky and that the workers were exposed to abnormally high levels of radiation.
Meanwhile, a British ship carrying a cargo of plutonium, reprocessed in Britain from spent nuclear fuel arrived yesterday in southwestern Japan, to Greenpeace protests.
The Ukrainian Government confirmed yesterday that it would shut down the Chernobyl plant "between now and the end of 2000".
Lear undaunted
While radiation leaked silently from a Japanese uranium plant, Sir Nigel Hawthorne was on stage near by, playing King Lear. The Saitama Theatre, where the Royal Shakespeare Company is playing, is 85 miles west of Tokaimura. But a friend of Sir Nigel said there was no question of pulling out. Trevor Benson said, as always, that the show must go on.